Updated: For all sorts of complicated legal and contractual reasons, Hulu is not officially available to users outside of the United States. However, funny thing about the web — geographic restrictions have a way of being difficult to enforce.
And so it was with some delight that I noticed in a postscript about Hulu adding classic ’90s sitcom News Radio that a friend in Canada was suggesting an easy solution to watching Hulu north of the border: a free VPN service called Hotspot Shield.
I’ve certainly jumped through plenty of hoops in order to access the BBC’s iPlayer, which is similarly restricted to users outside of the UK. And an email to another friend who resides in London turned up confirmation that Canadians aren’t alone in using Hotspot Shield to access Hulu, as he’d heard reports of the same workaround.
How does it work? Well, VPN stands for “virtual private network,” so when Hotspot Shield is turned on your web connection is encrypted. More importantly, it also replaces your IP address with one from Hotspot Shield, which is based in the U.S. The idea is to protect your browsing from online snoops, but this little side effect means that as far as Hulu knows, you’re as American as apple pie and worthless subprime mortgages.
All you have to do is download the client, which works for both PCs and Macs, and you’re ready to go. It’s a lot less complicated and appears much more reliable than relying on proxy servers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way around.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical when News Corp. and NBC Universal announced their online video joint venture eventually named Hulu. Now, I couldn’t be more of a fan — it’s easy to find great movies and television shows, which are offered in relatively high quality, and I can easily share my finds with friends through links and embedded clips.
So why isn’t the service being offered to viewers worldwide? Because of legacy distribution agreements between companies like NBC and international networks. Canadian and British broadcasters pay good money for the regional rights to popular shows, often airing them months after they’ve been broadcast in the U.S. Naturally, they wouldn’t be too keen on viewers visiting Hulu instead.
But viewers are already closing those gaps in time and space by downloading shows from torrent links on sites like The Pirate Bay and Mininova. Wouldn’t it be in the best interests of networks to offer them a slick, easy-to-use product they can advertise against rather then ceding the market to less official means of distribution? And couldn’t they locally target those ads, even allowing current regional distribution partners to resell the inventory to local companies?
Dunno. I’m no media executive. What I do know is that if you’re outside the U.S., Hotspot Shield will get my embed of The Last Days of Disco above working fine. The movie isn’t even available on DVD thanks to (you guessed it) rights issues, so enjoy it while you can. Update: That didn’t last long; Hulu is now blocking Hotspot Shield users. Check out the full story.